A Place For Over 30 MBA Applicants?

Senior Woman Using Laptop --- Image by © Jean Michel Foujols/zefa/Corbis

Is There A Place For Over-30 MBA Applicants?

Is 40 the new 30?

Not if you want to start a full-time MBA program.

That’s the stereotype, I’m afraid. Once you pass the 30 year mark, the academic world supposedly looks at you differently. Suddenly, you’re out of touch and set in your ways, unable to keep up and too late to the party. Your classmates will tease you about grunge and ask for stories about life before the internet. Experience is an asset – but only the right amount. If you miss the sweet spot—being 27-29 without big paychecks or family ties to hold you down – people naturally wonder if you can step away from your comforts and put your nose to the ground.

Truth or fiction? It’s a bit of both, actually. In a recent Forbes column Matt Symonds, director of Fortuna Admissions, outlines the benefits and drawbacks of being a post-30 candidate seeking full-time admissions. First, here’s the good news: There’s hope. According to Symonds, programs like Columbia Business School and UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, you’ll find 40-somethings gleefully sitting alongside their twentysomething cohorts. And the Wharton School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management are known to bring professionals with 15 years of experience for something other than guest speakers.

On a personal note, Symonds adds that 85% of his age 30 or over clients gained admission to a top school.

In fact, Symonds clicks off several benefits that 30+ students bring to a full-time MBA community. One, of course, is a longer track record of achievement, which gives older candidates an advantage in the application process. “You have some great stories to tell in your written application and interviews about your impressive accomplishments and how these are indicative of your personal motivation for both professional and personal success,” Symonds writes. Even more, those experiences are bound to broaden and enrich classroom discussions, showing how strategies, pressures, and tradeoffs truly play out in the real world.

That said, Symonds also rolls out a long list of downsides for older candidates – from an admissions vantage point, at least. One can be summed up this way: ‘Why here, why now?’ “Business schools know from experience that many strong candidates usually apply early in their career, i.e. in their twenties,” Symonds points out. “The most ambitious high achievers want to get their MBA as soon as possible. Top schools want these students in their classes, and know that such candidates are not going to wait around. Competition between schools for bright young talent is fierce.” Bottom line: Younger talent is considered a value add in many cases, while older professionals are more of a commodity.

Another is a perceived deficit in “flexibility” (Talk about a code world). “It is widely felt that young, energized, and highly motivated candidates can still be trained, molded, and made to conform,” Symonds observes. “On the other hand, an older candidate may be more set in their ways and not be as open to new ideas.”

And those aren’t necessarily adcom sentiments – and Symonds takes pains to show they’re not his own. However, Symonds concedes that “business schools cater to what employers want.” Many times, that is whip smart cheap labor who don’t ask (too many) questions and can be available on a moment’s notice. “Recruiters know that an entry-level, post-MBA job requires tremendous energy, motivation, and sacrifice because of the long hours, travel, and complete focus,” Symonds adds. “Some older job candidates may not want to or even be mentally and physically be able to perform this way. In some cases, what about family?”

Even more, Symonds relays that some decision-makers also presume the presence of older students could hinder class cohesion, tying this sentiment to “teamwork” and “fit” (two more code words). “Recruiters want to encourage [teamwork and fit] by cultivating an atmosphere where students with similar attributes and goals will recognize and feed on the talents of others, ultimately learning to work well together on a level playing field,” Symonds shares. “This can often make the placement of an older candidate more difficult. An older candidate might feel either consciously or subconsciously that “I know more because I’ve been out there learning from experience.” While most b-schools extol the virtues of diversity in terms of race, gender, and experience, there are limits when it comes to age. “Age differences create cultural differences,” Symonds adds.

Can 30-something candidates overcome these preconceptions – or are they mostly relegated to EMBA and online programs? Here, Symonds offers several helpful hints.

He starts by encouraging these candidates to develop clear goals and plans. “More so than younger candidates,” Symonds writes, “you must have a solid plan, concrete ideas, and be able shine a bright light on the fact that you would be a valuable asset because of your experience and knowledge.”

Just as important, those plans must be realistic, particularly since Symonds notes that older students may end up working at a lower level position and potentially making less money. “Make sure that your career goals are consistent with what’s realistic for an older student (i.e. don’t expect to work for McKinsey if you already have 10+ years of work experience),” he writes. “You don’t want the school to have any doubts about how you’ll impact the job placement stats. It’s important to have an articulate plan that is achievable given your profile, and leverages the additional experience you bring.”

Most important, Symonds argues that older candidates should tap their network to identify how to position themselves as the lowest risk and highest upside candidates. “You should also focus on how you can convey that you’ll be a good fit for the school’s student community. Emphasize your level of engagement in the community and commitment to a particular passion or hobby. With these strong attributes, you must research and discover where you will be the best fit…Come up with a reason that turns your extra years of experience into an advantage. Have a good reason for why now is the best time for you to apply, and the anticipated success and impact you’ll have with the MBA. Underline the value of your additional experience and deeper perspective that you will bring to the program.”

To read the full article, click on the Forbes link below.


Source: Forbes

  • Neel

    That cover picture is soooo damn wrong.. I take complete offence LOL 😀 😀 😀 😀

  • David__D

    No, just slightly above average. It’s not until 32+ that you are really affecting the average (think about it: 26-27 average means there’s a 25 year old for every “you”). Above 32 you better be military or it would be tough.

  • David__D

    That’s a very international view. I did great applying to programs as a 30 year old (7 years of work experience as an engineer). If I had gone at 24 I would have gotten maybe 25-30% of the value I am at this point in life.

  • permanda

    and Stanford MSx has gmat avg higher than Full time programs at Duke, Cornell, Oxford, and IMD. and its just 5 points short of 700. Hint: don’t down play others achievements thinking naively that you’re special. There will be almost 6000 MBAs will graduate with you..all from what so called M7.. so, the chance that you would be outstanding is just 1/6000.. be careful of such dangerous attitude that you have shown here..its gonna destroy you..

  • permanda

    hint: Sloan fellows at MIT is much more selective than their full time MBA..

  • madmaxx

    I don’t know about this — I look at a lot of LinkedIn profiles and I see people who have education — Stanford, Harvard, or Sloan, and it is impressive. Then you read down and see one of these programs and it is like, “oh ok, that is not such a big deal…” In fact, it almost looks like they are trying to cover up where they actually went…

  • madmaxx

    So, that is the situation I will be in — a 31 yr old first year at an M7. I know getting in at our advanced, old age is tough, but how is it once you actually start? How was recruiting for internships? Was it more difficult for you given your age? I agree that part-time or executive is better if you are staying at the same company and in the same career path — in fact, if you are doing that, especially if your company requires you to get the degree to get some promotion, it doesn’t really matter where you go. For example, I know an SVP at a top enterprise software company who got his MBA from University of Phoenix so that he could check the box for promotion. However, if you have non-traditional experience, it is almost impossible to change careers at 30 unless you get an MBA. It is tough even with one (I think). In that case, full time is probably better because you can do more internships.

  • madmaxx

    There are upsides to both. It is hard to imagine you know exactly what career trajectory you want right after undergrad and the idea of being able to take two years to really focus on what you have determined you are most passionate about through real world experience is appealing. However, I think there is a lot of upside to getting it out of the way early so you can get into the best starting position at the best company you can right off the bat… I graduated from college a couple of years early and would have been much better off staying in school, getting an MBA, and doing internships then getting out and blindly taking jobs based on limited knowledge of what I was getting into or what would be most interesting to me.

  • madmaxx

    Based on your extensive knowledge of people at different ages and their career trajectories? Also, you don’t “study MBA.”

  • madmaxx

    That’s great to hear — I am in a similar boat, 31 and starting at an M7 in a few months. I have a 99th percentile GMAT score and a unique story involving playing, coaching, and starting a business in pro sports. I went to a top public university. I had a very tough time getting into a top school and think he notion that it isn’t frowned upon is BS — it absolutely is. Of course, schools can’t come out and admit to being agist. I’m interested in your experience recruiting for internships and full time jobs, given your age and the fact you changed careers. Did you seem to have a much harder time getting offers than your younger classmates? Any insight here is appreciated!

  • Kolumbia_Kool

    What a load of BS of an article!

    All the arguments that Symonds is making in the article for a person > 30 can might as well apply to any person in any other age-group.

    We can arbitrarily define a new sweet spot age = 25-27 and
    question whether people > 27 should be even applying to a full-time MBA program.

    Ultimately whether a person will make a good full-time MBA candidate or not will depend upon what qualities/skills (irrespective of age) he or she brings to the table.

    Articles like these make us wonder whether Poets and Quants is on the path to become the leading “Gossip Queen” of other similar B-School information/news related websites.

    Be a little more professional guys!

  • 28

    29 is fine, people are crazy.

    I started my MBA at 28. It was the perfect time to begin, and it was extremely valuable to bring 6 years of pre-MBA experience to the table. If an entire class was made up of 24-25 year olds with 2-3 years of very junior experience, classroom discussions would be boring… It is important to have a diversity of experience in a group. Plus, there are many great post MBA roles that require 5+ years of experience.

    Good luck, you’re fine.

  • tetra

    which school is that? this is very successful example for you and your school.

  • MBA-Watch

    Very interesting.. were you 37 at graduation?!

  • over30mba

    I’m 37 and finishing up at an M7 school. I came to school to do a complete career switch and was successful with both my internship and full time offer . I’m not gonna lie….it wasn’t easy, but it can be done.

  • MBA-Watch

    programs of Sloan Fellows, Stanford MSx, USC IBEAR , are all targeting the 30+ people and they are by far better choice than traditional mbas..

  • I’ll take the bait

    I would agree that 25 is an ideal age to start an MBA, from a variety of standpoints, but anyone who is looking to transition to a different career path (within reason) can benefit – from non-trad people like military applicants to f500 or big 4 folks looking to break into consulting or IB. There are many caveats to that statement (strength of school and personal story matter), but in general I think it’s true. That said, I don’t think a full-time MBA is a good option for a 30+ person looking to advance their existing career within the same field. That’s what eMBAs are for.

    For reference, I’m a 31 y.o. first year MBA student at an M7, loving life.

  • GlobalMBA

    I wonder why the author of this article did not mention the LBS full time MBA average age for the classes of 2013 and 2014?! they were 31 and 30 respectively.

  • dyna shamshir

    Most MBA programs in Europe an Asia have an average age of between 29-31. Plently

  • 24ornope

    Once you turn 29, you should just give up on the idea of wanting to be educated. You’re hopeless

  • Steven

    I think 29 is too old to study MBA and rare to find it benefiting for career. avg age for mba should not exceed 24 or 25.

  • thex11factor

    this so-called sweet spot between ages 27-29…is that considered the sweet spot to complete their MBAs, start an MBA or apply? Will an age 29 applicant be considered past their prime?